Tuesday 1 November 2011

A theory about making a good English lesson - part 1 - concepts for a good lesson

So, I have recently just finished my TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) course. It was a 100 hour course with ONTESL which I would recommend. 100 hours doesn't sound like to much, but it ended up taking up a lot of my time (maybe this was just me). It had 3 modules: learning styles, grammar, and lesson planning.
The one that I see as the most important would probably have to be the lesson planning, even though I was in it for the grammar module. As a ALT on the JET program we don't always get to create the lesson plans, but when you do, you'll want to understand how to create a decent lesson. I'll give you a brief run down on some of the structures and points it taught me about lesson planning.
The course ran through quite a few different teaching styles, but it mainly taught the PPP (Presentation, Practice, and Production)  structure. This is the communicative lesson approach. The idea behind it is having the students produce the language in a real context. That means you just don't do a class about a grammar point etc without a reason! You must have a context that will make the class truer to a real-life situation.

This communicative lesson approach is really what Japan wants from the JET programme, but in reality it really depends on the teacher you will teach with. More often than not you will be fit into a grammar style class with grammar points, repetition, basic drills, etc. The reason behind this briefly is because everybody is so focused on tests and passing them. The teachers would be grilled if their children failed, yet if they pass their tests everything is ok, even though they are far from fluency. Sometimes it is because it is just easier for the teacher. But, most of the time, it is far from the Japanese teachers fault. This is something that starts from the top and is perhaps greatly influenced by culture.

I just attended a conference by JET that again went over these points. The main idea being: we really need to let the Japanese students try to freely produce the language (a focus on fluency). This is what the communicative approach is all about: allowing the students to freely produce the target language in the classroom. Let's take a quick look at some of the concepts and main points of this communicative system:

  • The teacher takes the role as a facilitator, rather than a dictator or controller of the classroom. There will be teacher to student learning, but there will also be a lot of student to student learning. The teacher isn't always the focus of the class! It is the teachers job to have the students communicate together. You may notice that in Japan is a very teacher to student culture.
  •  Use the language in context. Ensure that the class has a context. Grammar and vocabulary without a context is quite confusing. How do you use this new vocabulary and grammar? It is good to have a theme or context right from the beginning. 
  • There is a lot of group work and interaction between the students.
  • Allow the students to think. Don't just give them questions and immediate answers. A lot of students enjoy taking attempts and get a feeling of reward from answering the questions. You can allow the students to do this as a group too. A lot of the time teachers expect immediate answers, but the students need time to think! Also, ensure you structure your questions well, don't leave them too open (i.e., What do you think about this?), but don't leave them so closed that there is only one answer (unless the exercise calls for it).
  • Use a lot of props, pictures, and brainstorms. Use these as prompts to get answers from students.
That is only a small list, but hopefully it gives you a good feel for the communicative approach. There are things like the lesson structure and common activities that really express this method well too, but i'll go over them in the next part. It is a challenge to try and employ these concepts in a class. You will probably find a different story for each class you teach because of your various teachers. But, if you have the opportunity to see a teacher-student dictated class and a communicative class side by side (I have had this opportunity in a lesson observation conference), then you will notice the huge difference in what skills the students are employing in the class.

So, I've left these concepts kind of shaky but, they'll come together more when I have the chance to post about the PPP lesson structure. 

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